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Multimedia Exhibit Focuses On West Hartford's Diversity

A new multimedia exhibit will put West Hartford's diverse population on display.

The project was developed over the last year by town employees Roszena Haskins, the town's director of adult and continuing education, and Kerry Jones, director of elementary education, after receiving a $50,000 grant from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund.

Haskins, who is also the director of diversity advancement, said the purpose of the "Inspiring Equity" project is to bring the town's diversity to life.

"The grant ties into the equity and diversity work we're doing here in the district to build our cultural competence," Haskins said. "That's a multi-year commitment."

The finished project - which was also aided by the fiscal sponsor, the Bridge Family Center - comes in the form of portraits and a book, which is where the learning begins.

Using the Live Portrait application for iPhones, iPads, and Android phones, photos can be scanned, opening up videos of those subjects talking about themselves and diversity.

On Dec. 14 and Dec. 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., large portraits will be placed around the town hall for people to view and scan using the app. Books can also be purchased, allowing guests to take the exhibit home with them.

"There are 63,000 residents in West Hartford, and they come from so many backgrounds," Haskins said. "We have such a rich tapestry of diversity. There are many strengths that diversity brings to our community. However, there are so many challenges too. You want to recognize and have a time, space, place, and forum to talk about those differences, strengths, and challenges."

Haskins said she and Jones thought that having community conversations, aided by the book they created, would help that.

"We want to have those conversations around diversity and equity," Haskins said. "We didn't have a protocol or model for doing that. What if we captured their stories? Storytelling is a very popular trend right now, and storytelling seems to be what breaks down barriers and promotes listening and understanding."

Through the help of many other resources, they identified 156 participants, both individuals and groups, that represent West Hartford's diversity to be part of the project.

"We assembled a dialogue team of people in agencies across town," Haskins said. "We identified people who inspire equity, who are passionate about social justice, and affording access and opportunities. It was critical for us in this project to access multiple perspectives."

Haskins said using the Live Portrait app allows the book's subjects to tell their stories in their own voices.

"The images were captured by a professional photographer in a way that caught the attention of the eye," Haskins said. "Behind every image, there's a voice that talks about how this person or organization inspires equity in West Hartford and how these individuals and groups work to build community."

Technology will bring the project to all audiences, Haskins said, and ensure it continues to live, even after its two-day showing at the town hall.

"We want to engage in conversation with each other and get to know each other," Haskins said. "It's an opportunity to build community. That's what we hope for from this project, to build community, have community dialogue, and advance equity. It's a platform that promotes civility, respect, understanding, and empowerment."

Hard cover books will be for sale during the exhibit for $35, and soft cover books will be for sale for $25, while supplies last. Books will be placed in schools, libraries, and elsewhere in the community for future use.

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